Visual Culture

5 Up-And-Coming Photographers at Arles Festival

Katheryn Thayer
Jul 3, 2019 4:54PM

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Chloé Wasp, Yucatán, 2019. © Chloé Wasp. Courtesy of the artist.

Les Rencontres d’Arles has attracted some of the world’s most esteemed and pioneering photographers over its 50-year history. And thanks to its longstanding relationship with the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie (ENSP)—France’s sole national art school dedicated exclusively to photography—Les Rencontres continues to incorporate fresh perspectives from young image-makers. This year’s festival opened this week, and will run through September 22nd.

“Since the beginning of the festival, the idea of education, especially through masterclasses, was very important,” said the festival’s director, Sam Stourdzé. Photographer Lucien Clergue, writer Michel Tournier, and historian Jean-Maurice Rouquette hosted the first Les Rencontres d’Arles in 1970. Just over a decade later, Clergue and then–Les Rencontres president Maryse Cordesse were granted a large house in Arles, which they transformed into a school with the first director, Alain Desvergnes.

Since then, the ENSP has shaped the work of photographers like Olivier Metzger, Mathieu Pernot, and Valérie Jouve, and the festival has grown into a three-month extravaganza that has exhibited works by masters like Ansel Adams and Agnès Varda, while also tackling topics like dark tourism and racism in contemporary American culture.

The storied festival has made room for artists in all stages of their careers, and ENSP students in particular have had great access through annual collaborations. This year, student Adrien Vargoz is curating a show that places student work alongside that of Nan Goldin and Massimo Vitali; Nina Medioni is setting up a portrait studio for teens; and Prune Phi is amplifying pieces she showed last summer at the festival with her own guerilla postcard stand. Here, we highlight these artists and more in our roundup of five photographers to watch from this year’s Les Rencontres d’Arles.

Adrien Vargoz

Adrien Vargoz, Untitled from “Chasing the Sun,” 2017–ongoing. Courtesy of the artist.

Adrien Vargoz, Untitled from “Chasing the Sun,” 2017–ongoing. Courtesy of the artist.


At “WIP (Work in Progress),” an annual Arles exhibition mounted by the ENSP student association, Adrien Vargoz is exhibiting “Chasing the Sun” (2017–present)—a series about artist Martin Andersen’s initiative to build a heliostat mirror that reflects rays into his sun-starved town square in Rjukan, Norway. The work isn’t yet finished, which makes it a good fit for the show, and Vargoz ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund a return trip to continue documenting the community.

“I want to continue in the same vein while incorporating movement in my photography,” Vargoz said. “The mirrors move slowly, following the course of the sun. I would like to make the connection with this elasticity of landscape, whether mechanical or organic.” He wants to test out a more participatory approach to documenting the newly sunlit space, so he sent 30 disposable cameras to locals.

Vargoz is also one of six student photographers curating a Les Rencontres exhibition in ENSP’s newest building. The show, called “Modernity of Passions,” juxtaposes student work alongside images by Nan Goldin, Ryan McGinley, Malick Sidibé, and Massimo Vitali, among other artists from the agnès b. collection.

Chloé Wasp

Chloé Wasp, Eduardo, Macario Gomez, 2019. © Chloé Wasp. Courtesy of the artist.

Chloé Wasp is one of the up-and-coming photographers included in “Modernity of Passions.” Her work is deeply inspired by music and poetry, and she cites 20th-century French dramatist Antonin Artaud as having a profound influence on her work.

Supernatural and subtly spiritual elements are at play in Wasp’s photography, too. Her most recent work, JAGUARES (2017–present), constructs an experimental documentary about the predominance of jaguar imagery—from pre-Hispanic art to modern billboards—in southeastern Mexico, and the actual animal’s conspicuous absence from its traditional habitats as development and climate change drive endangerment. Her pieces investigate the tension between the simultaneous presence and absence of these “ghosts.”

Aude Carleton

Aude Carleton, Au Nord, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Aude Carleton, Le grand large, 2019 Courtesy of the artist.

Aude Carleton is participating in “Modernity of Passions”with Au Nord (2018), a photo that won a LensCulture Portrait Award for its depiction of a teenage girl wrestling with heartache. Carleton will present it with a song called Nature Boy, a poetic meditation on a footballer’s slow death on the field, set to music by Oscar Emch.

Imaginative world-making runs through Carleton’s work. Inspired by the cinematic style of film directors like Bruno Dumont and Pier Paolo Pasolini, she said that “taking pictures is like acting; it’s like staging reality.”

She’s currently developing a series called “Soleil Torride” (2019–present), which explores her roots in the West Indies. She said it stages “meeting a father [she] never knew, living under the path of another sun.”

Nina Medioni

Nina Medioni, Tsipora, from “Le Voile,” 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Nina Medioni’s work centers around youth culture, and puts conversations before photographs. “I do photography because I love to meet people,” she said. “I spend a lot of time getting to know people before I ever take a picture.”

That’s how she started her years-in-the-making series “Le Voile (The Veil)” (2015–present). Visiting relatives in Bnei Brak—a very conservative community near Tel Aviv—Medioni got to know her cousin’s 11 children, and decided she wanted to create a portrait of their atypical experience of adolescence, with no phones or internet and limited access to books or images. “They have this ability to be very focused on someone, very curious about someone,” she said. “They’re very independent. And I want to show the choices they have to make so early—at 17, you have to decide if you’ll go into the army, and how religious you’ll be.”

To continue these explorations of adolescence closer to home, Medioni is setting up a portrait studio at a public high school to photograph local teens every Sunday through the duration of Les Rencontres. It’s a mix of personal research and community education—“a place of encounter,” as she described it, “to see how they interact with the camera, take their portraits, show them how the camera works, and discuss with them what a portrait is and can be.” She’s also taken photos of teenagers in nearby Marseilles, and will share those in “Modernity of Passions.

Prune Phi

Prune Phi, Untitled, from “Missed Call,” 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Prune Phi, Untitled, from “Missed Call,” 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

In 2017, Prune Phi discovered that her French-Vietnamese grandfather also had family in California—which is home to the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam—and Texas. Her contact with them evolved into an extended visit and a show called “Long Distance Call” (2017). Further research into the Vietnamese immigrant community at home in France produced her next series, “Missed Call” (2018).

“I noticed how similar most of the shared stories were,” Phi said of her subjects. “They all brought up how peculiar their families were about sharing recipes and religion, and how silent they remained on personal experiences and expressing their feelings.”

“Long Distance Call” was featured in Les Rencontres last year, in a show called “Une Attention Particulière.” Phi’s viewing of French-Palestinian photographer Taysir Batniji’s “Gaza to America, Home Away from Home” (2017) at the festival helped inspire her work.

Now, Phi is preparing to travel to Vietnam to continue her explorations in a series called “Hang Up” (2019–present)—but first, she’ll spend time taking in Les Rencontres. She doesn’t have a formal exhibition planned, but she will display and sell postcards of her work with her peers Tal Yaron, Quentin Fagart, and Maxime Muller on the sidewalk. “It’s inspiring and exciting to see the calm town of Arles becoming so animated every time the festival opens,” she said.

Katheryn Thayer
Katheryn Thayer is the director of content at Kickstarter, where she produces stories about the artists, designers, and inventors bringing new ideas to life.